When the United Nations' Working Group on Ageing met on December 12-15, 2016 at the UN Headquarters in New York, one of the voices the delegates heard was that of Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See's Apostolic Nuncio to the UN.

December's meeting was the seventh session of the Working Group on Ageing, which was established in 2010. The goal of the Working Group, as defined by the UN General Assembly, is to explore “measures to enhance the promotion and protection of the human rights and dignity of older persons.”

As the Catholic Church's representative, Archbishop Auza thanked the group for its commitment to address in a concrete way the many injustices faced by the elderly, and to call attention to their  increased social marginalization. The archbishop conveyed Pope Francis' opposition to a “throw-away culture” which treats the elderly as if they are merely an impending economic and social burden.“As a person ages,” the archbishop said,

“...he or she normally grows in maturity and, even if the nature of one’s social contribution may change, one can still contribute much to society. In this regard, Pope Francis recently affirmed that each of us is called to commit to building a more welcoming and inclusive society, but ‘to do this we must counter the harmful throw-away culture that marginalizes the elderly, considering them unproductive.’

The elderly are not only a resource but an essential point of reference at a time when many are struggling to find their identity and are uncertain of the future.”

Until recently, society has understood that the elderly contribute an accrued wisdom and experience which can guide younger generations. Today, however, there is a risk that elders who no longer serve in the workplace, and who may be facing serious and expensive medical problems, will be considered “expendable”—making them vulnerable to euthanasia.

Faith Increases in Old Age

One way that seniors can positively influence the family, the community and the world is by sharing their faith. A study released in April 2012 by the University of Chicago showed that age seemed to be a big factor in belief. Belief in God was highest among older adults, with 43 percent of those 68 and older saying they are certain that God exists, compared with 23 percent of those 27 and younger.

Tom W. Smith, author of the study “Beliefs about God across Time and Countries,” noted, "Looking at differences among age groups, the largest increases in belief in God most often occur among those 58 years of age and older."

Looking at the strengthening of faith which is likely to occur between the 58 to 67 age group and those 68 and older, Smith reaches the conclusion that older people, as they near the end of their earthly lives, are hedging their bets. “This suggests,” Smith says, “that belief in God is especially likely to increase among the oldest groups, perhaps in response to the increasing anticipation of mortality.”

But if, as Archbishop Auza said, the elderly still have something unique to contribute to society, then perhaps it is not fear of their mortality which drives the elderly toward greater faith. Instead, perhaps their stronger focus on spiritual things is the product of increased knowledge, awareness, and direct experience of God in their lives. The younger generation would do well to consider what Grandma and Grandpa have learned in their long lives, and to make that strong, living faith their own.